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Gloucestershire Business News

Council working to reopen Gloucester's leisure facilities

Gloucester City Council is working to reopen the city's leisure facilities following the news last week that the Aspire Trust couldn't continue to operate.

The council is working with local partners on a phased approach to providing the leisure services at GL1 and Oxstalls after the trust announced it was going into liquidation.

The plan will see the facilities opened on a phased basis over the next few weeks and it is likely it will run on a reduced service initially.

The council is intending to bring in a new provider to take on the running of the services on a temporary basis until a long-term solution is in place.

It is planned that all former Aspire employees recently made redundant will be given interviews by the new provider for any new roles, with the intention that as many as possible will be taken on.

Councillor Andy Lewis, cabinet member for culture and leisure, said: "Getting these facilities open and allowing our community access to them is our number one priority at the moment. We shared the concern and disappointment at the news that the Aspire Trust could no longer run the city's leisure facilities.

"We are working tirelessly to offer what we can until a new provider can be found. We'll be contacting local clubs and regular bookers and we also want to reach out to former Aspire employees so we can ensure they're offered interviews."

Speaking exclusively to Punchline-Gloucester.com, Cllr Lewis said they had come up with five major priorities to get sites up and running, starting with Oxstalls.

"We'll get the outdoor facilities open by this weekend and next weekend will have the indoor facilities open, but GL1 is a lot more complicated," he said.

Prior to last week's announcement, the council had understood that the trust would continue to operate until September 2024 and had begun looking for a new provider to take on the leisure services from this point.

The council was extremely disappointed when the trust announced that it would not be able to continue, despite the council committing to financial support that they had requested, of over £1.5 million since 2019.

Asked about Aspire's decision to suddenly close the facilities, Cllr Lewis said: "They told us they were going to accept the extra money which we offered them and said they would sign the extra year's contract which was decided in March this year by full council and they never signed it.

"It will all come out because we had a report by Hazlewoods and they said it was a going concern, with difficulties granted, and that's why we decided to offer them the extra money. They decided they wanted to shut so they shut it."

Cllr Lewis said they had received some "wonderful" offers from the public and from other companies. "We've had between five and ten credible companies offer to help us out and we're just sifting through all of it," he added.

"I understand the passion and getting people involved in the petitions - brilliant, let's get the community involved in it - but give us a chance to actually do something. Five days isn't a great deal of time to turn a major industry in our city around but we've done it and it will be up and running in weeks, not years, like they were predicting.

"The officers have done a brilliant job. I know they will get criticised - why didn't you see it coming and all the rest of it, but they've had long nights and we've been in contact with other councils. People are going to politicise it but I don't think it will stick because they've done such a wonderful job to get it back to where it is."

Gloucester MP Richard Graham, speaking to Punchline-Gloucester.com yesterday from the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, said: "My key aim during this whole conference has been really to try to see how we can resolve the problems at our two leisure sites, GL1 and Oxstalls in Gloucester.

"I've had good meetings with ministers from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the sports minister in particular,.and their special advisers to look at what the government can do to help us.

"Meanwhile the council has been looking at ways of reopening both those centres, working closely with other partners, like the University of Gloucestershire.

"Through Punchline I would like to thank those schools and other clubs with hockey, football and swimming facilities who have been able to help in the few days since the centres closed on Friday, and that temporary help my be useful longer term for some of the organisations, but obviously the major aim is to get these leisure sites open as soon as possible and I think we are making major progress towards this."

Asked about the finances of the Aspire Sports and Cultural Trust - which showed a net liability of over £400,000 for the year ended March 2022 - Mr Graham said: "These are all issues that will be looked at fairly soon. Councillors will want a proper debate on it.

"I think some interesting facts will come out of it. People will want to know what senior managers were perhaps awarding themselves with and why Aspire decided to take themselves into liquidation at such haste.

"But the major focus for me and the council is getting those facilities open as quickly as possible. They're used by people with disabilities and people of all ages, and a hell of a lot of people are affected so that is why this drive over the last few days has been so important."

A meeting is set to be organised with Active Gloucestershire to work with sports clubs and sporting bodies.

As more information becomes available it will be posted on the council's website along with some FAQs to keep people up to date.

Anyone who has any questions about the closure can email leisure@gloucester.gov.uk 

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